Cultural knowledge is about people

Chris R. Morgan writes on Hubert Butler’s “literary localism:”

Irishness for Butler was local. “There should be an archive in every village,” he wrote. “Where life is fully and consciously lived in our own neighbourhood, we are cushioned a little from the impact of great far-off events which should be of only marginal concern to us.” At the county level the hues of Ireland’s character could be seen with the brightest clarity. Butler’s fascination with County Kilkenny was without bottom, but his affection is tinged with pain:

There are many beautiful little towns along the Nore, but since ‘each man kills the thing he loves’ it is perhaps unsafe to admire them. Their beauty depends on humpbacked bridges and winding streets and large trees, all of which obstruct the motorist in his race to progress. The curves of the bridge are now being straightened with cement but often you can see the great stone slabs of the parapet jutting out of the stream below the bridge.

A point of pride for Butler were his efforts to restart the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, as well as other local societies dedicated to the proudly amateur preservation of local history and culture. “All these little towns should have had their chroniclers,” he writes, “for one chronicler attracts another and a village, conscious of its history, can resist the tyranny of the government official.”

Because “cultural conservation” is ultimately about the spirit of a people, it’s less about the quirks of different cultures than it is about the preservation of a people’s knowledge. Their lived experiences and the celebration of the things they become conscious to; like the sort that Butler celebrates and commemorates.

There’s pride there; a sort of pride that can only be washed away by the platitude that “all cultures are great,” which is fine so far as it goes.

Except that it doesn’t say anything about any particular people, which means it contains no knowledge, and there’s nothing to learn beyond the importance of vanilla affirmations.